Salman Khan sucks. There, I said it. There is no sugar-coated, soft way to put it. There is no grey area. He is an entitled, privileged man out on the streets, winning the hearts of unquestioning fans every Eid. He is a beeping red sign, symbolic of a lot that is going wrong in Indian society. And yet, year after year, he is celebrated.
Let’s examine the “Bhai-sexual” subculture. Yes, fans of Salman Khan have their own subculture (apart from hundreds of Facebook pages). They don Being Human clothes, wear that signature bracelet, and call their closest friends bhaijaan. They catch the first show of the first day that Salman’s films hit theatres. They hoot, cheer, and dance as he puts chheds in villains and seduces Munnis. They go out to dinner at Bhaijaanz, the Salman-themed restaurant. They even spend hours outside his house dressed in the clothes that his characters wore, waiting to get a glimpse of him.
What is characteristic about the Bhai fan is a sense of extremism – extreme love, extreme adoration, and extreme dedication. They defend him unto death in person and on social media, often bringing up his humanitarian gestures and NGO as evidence for his kind-hearted nature. Bhai-apologists will stoop as low as taking personal jabs at people who question Salman’s skills or achievements.
And therein lies the crux of his fandom; all his fans exhibit an unquestioning devotion – nay fanaticism. They are not open to any sort of critique or discussion. Those that are more peaceful might acknowledge that he is not perfect, but they will be quick to point out his redeeming qualities, however few there may be. This lack of a need to question why he behaves the way he does is seen as an indicator of their undying love for him. It is no wonder then that they are called Bhai-tards.
There is a virginal quality about Salman Khan – a sense of innocence and vulnerability. A belief that his intentions are not bad, just that he gets into sticky situations. He’s like a young boy who has gone astray and only needs to be brought back to the right side. Salman toh bhai hai, yaar. This is why his fans are so forgiving of his faults.
But the fact of the matter is that Bhai casts a very long shadow. He’s a living, breathing, tangible god for millions of Indians. Fans ape him and aspire to be like him. His Chulbul Pandey is a corrupt cop, his Sultan is sexist, and his Devil lifts the skirt of the woman he wants to serenade. And what makes this worse is that for the last six years, he has essentially been playing himself on screen. Off-screen, it only gets worse. He compares a hard day at work to the pain of being raped. For all intents and purposes, he is a thought leader who shapes the way that several people think. Is it not problematic that so many people look up to him as an icon and idol?
But his fans aren’t the only criminals. The silent majority is the other devil in this situation. Every time you watch a movie starring him, or dance to a song featuring him, or look at him do something objectionable on screen, and don’t scream “What the f**k?” you are contributing to the culture that has made it acceptable for this man to be one of the biggest superstars that this decade has seen.
I don’t need a degree in film to dislike Salman. I don’t even have to be a feminist to hate Salman. All I need is an ounce of logic and the ability to question his stardom.